In the recently held International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS)—the show that packs McCormack Place every two years with over 100,000 hard-core manufacturing professionals and a dazzling array of machines that can make most anything—here was Autodesk with a message: It’s really all about software.
It would be a challenge for any other company. But Autodesk is not afraid—not of the robotic arms that can take your head off or the million-dollar multi axis, room-sized machines that turn nondescript blocks of material into shiny parts and curly threads of metal. The company is also not afraid of the 3D printing machines that are renting more of the show floor than ever—the big ones, not the microwave-sized toy makers insisting they can spit out parts like never before possible.
Nope, Autodesk is saying it is in control of all of that.
The Job of Design Software
Amar Hanspal, senior vice president at Autodesk, explains how software is the master of hardware. Autodesk’s collection of software aims to address design and manufacturing and was on display at the Additive Manufacturing Conference, which shared a venue with IMTS.
Before anything gets made, it can exist virtually. That’s the job of design software, where Autodesk is a big player. Autodesk software can completely define a part. It has, over the years, also acquired a band of companies that also can help make the part—or control the machines that make the part. Autodesk bought one of the leading companies, Delcam, a few years ago, as well as HSMWorks. And its Fusion360, first a design tool, does CAM too.
Just plug in the MoriSeiki metal-cutting machine, the 3D printer or, if you are really cutting edge (get it?), the KUKA robotic arm with a cutting head and out comes the part.
Or as Amar Hanspal, senior vice president at Autodesk, tells it, just 3D print it. That’s total freedom. The 3D-printed part does it all, Hanspalsaid. It’s even cheaper.
If you weren’t ready for that and were thinking 3D printing is slow and expensive per part, you need to hear why.
It’s cheaper because you don’t have to make the factory, said Hanspal. You can make one or two parts. 3D printing is close to making push-button manufacturing happen.
But be careful you don’t go too fast, cautions Hanspal. Critical parts will still need checking and simulation. I’m sure parts that go in a plane or a car will have to be tested and simulated with some sort of validation. But for all others, why not?
This part could only have been made with software that can handle additive and subtractive manufacturing, said Mark Forth of Autodesk. The part has also been light weighted with generative modeling.
Mark Forth of Autodesk, a Delcam veteran, would be expected to know CNC—which is also known asor subtractive machining in light of the popularity of additive manufacturing and is really the only type of machining we have ever known.
Delcam, the CAM industry stalwart based in Birmingham, UK, was acquired by Autodesk in 2014 but has kept its British identity. But this time around, Forth proudly wears Autodesk colors, signifying that the spirit of independence is now over, that Delcam is now happily part of the Autodesk family.
Autodesk has bundled all of its CAM tools—and there are many—under the “Future of Manufacturing” flag. Under it are HSMWorks, Delcam, NetFab (3D printing), Majestic (composites) and Fusion360, which seems to be the platform of the future and the hope of design and manufacturing for Autodesk.
Design, Manufacture—and Use
We’re not done, says Hanspal. The story is not over after the part goes out the door. Once the part is in use, all sorts of things start happening to it. Let’s make this part situationally aware. Let’s outfit it with sensors and transmitters so it can let us know what is happening.
What you thought was the one-stopshop, from concept to manufacture, has been extended. Autodesk has now realized that we can, with the Internet of Things and big data, feed what the part is experiencing back to the designers and engineers
Now, wouldn’t that be ultra-useful?